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Thank You, Mrs. Beckman

November 24, 2002

While they list their blessings this Thursday, a smattering of Orange County families will offer thanks for the courteous behavior of the young children at the feast.

They can thank Karen Beckman, a second-grade teacher at Chapman Hills Elementary School in Orange who has been teaching her young charges some essentials that aren't found on the state's proficiency exams. Such as refraining from gagging noises when asked if they'd like some string beans or asking to be excused from the table when they're finished.

Mrs. Beckman got the idea several years ago after observing her students' behavior whenever food came into the classroom. Especially bothersome were the hurtful comments students would make about each other's food contributions. ("You eat that!!???")

Inspiring behavior.

At least, it inspired Mrs. Beckman to develop a simple etiquette program for 7-year-olds. She's not talking about snooty teas or elaborate 26-utensil dinners--just enough savoir vivre to make the little darlings bearable company. She teaches them to say their magic words and ask for a second helping instead of reaching past Great Uncle Harry to nab it.

On Tuesday, instead of the typical grab-a-snack-food class party, Mrs. Beckman is holding a Manners Feast, a sort of finals exam in politesse. The children are making their placemats and setting the table. They will sit and practice their manners.

Oh, yes, and they'll eat. Chewing with their mouths closed, if Mrs. Beckman has anything to say about it, their elbows off the table and their burps restrained, thank you very much.

Politeness is contagious. Mrs. Beckman has even inspired The Times to a new level of etiquette, using her honorific title instead of the usual style of last name only.

So rare has true courtesy become that people seem amazed when a door is held open for them or a bus seat vacated for their use. As a result, Mrs. Beckman's pint-sized Emily Posts already have a head start when it comes to making their mark in the world. Givers of the feast might wish Mrs. Beckman would take some of their older guests in hand.

Who knows? Mrs. Beckman's second-graders might even grow into the kind of adult who knows it's polite to turn off the cell phone during dinner. Now that would make us thankful.

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